09/21/13: Communications Stories from Here & There

Below are six communications stories of note from the recent past.

Delivering on Thought Leadership by Harrison Wise, on PRWeek’s website, August 23.

For much of my work, I write white papers and bylined articles that help executives establish their thought leadership, and I know how important it is to provide readers’ with valuable content. I agree with Wise’s comment that “No matter how you look at it, the people or businesses that lead with regular advice, useful information, and provide helpful tips get more traffic and more business.”

In this piece, Wise, who is president of Wise Public Relations, states that a thought-leadership position in today’s socially connected world delivers authority, social proof, scarcity and influence. He provides five ways to develop a plan that positions a business executive as an industry thought leader.

Putin Op-Ed: Good PR or a Betrayal of Nation? By Steve Barrett, on PRWeek’s website, September 13.

In this piece, Barrett, editor-in-chief of PRWeek, discusses PR agency Ketchum’s role in placing Russian president Vladimir Putin’s recent Op-Ed about Syria in The New York Times. He considers whether Ketchum should include Russia as a client—the kind of issue faced by many global PR firms—as well as whether the agency might actually have written the Op-Ed—a common practice agencies perform for their clients.

What Businesses Need to Understand About Big (and Small) Data by Danny Brown, on arcompany.co, September 12.

“Big data” is all around us. And whether or not marketers today are aware of it, they “constantly work with data so of course they should know what ‘big data’  is and how it differs from ‘small,’ says Brown, vice president of marketing and technology at ArCompany. He provides a quick background on how data became big data, how big data differs from small data, and why big data is important to marketers.

Who Says the Traditional Storytelling Arc Can’t Work in Business? by Lou Hoffman, on the Ishmael’s Corner website, September 19.

The traditional storytelling arc—which starts with an opening scene and goes through a number of crises before reaching the climax and denouement—often takes too much time for storytelling done by most PR and marketing practitioners. In this piece, however, Hoffman, who has written about storytelling for some time, gives a good example of how this technique can be used in business communications.

His example is from True Move, a telecommunications company in Thailand. The company’s three-minute video “jumps right into the bad stuff,” shows things get worse, and then ends on a happy note. Filled with humanity, it grabs the viewer’s attention right away and keeps it until the end.

Storytelling Ads May be Journalism’s New Peril by David Carr in The New York Times, September 15.

Carr, who writes a regular Times column on the media, says in this piece, “Now the new rage is native advertising, which is to say advertising wearing the uniform of journalism, mimicking the storytelling aesthetic of the host site.”

This content is usually labeled as advertising, but it frequently looks very much like the news pieces that surround it, often with the same “headline, art, and text configuration of an editorial work,” Carr says. While native advertising (sometimes called sponsored content) provides a new advertising medium for companies and a new revenue stream for media outlets, if not done right, it can confuse readers and diminish the outlets’ credibility with them.

Carr quotes Joe McCambley, whose company helped build the first of the now-ubiquitous banner ads for websites: Native advertising “has to stand on its own as good journalism. Bad native advertising is destructive for the publishers that host it.”

Social Media, Big Data and Visualization by Cameron Uganec, on blog.hootsuite.com, September 20.

Here’s another take on big data. In this post, Uganec, Hootsuite’s director of marketing and communications, offers this clear definition of “big data”: “If a traditional database is a collection of data, then big data is a collection of collections of data. Usually, those different collections are in totally different formats, and it’s not obvious how to fit them together in a way that makes any sense.”

Although he does not show how to fit the data collections together, he does discuss how to get started with big data, and then he focuses on how big data can provide great social-media storytelling, especially when told with visuals. He provides a great visualization of Twitter data showing the progress of power outages occurring in the Northeast during Hurricane Sandy.

A Quote on Writing from Richard Dawkins

I’m pretty obsessive and a perfectionist about what I write. Each page is read over, several dozens of times, and it changes every time, for the better I hope, by a sort of winnowing process that resembles natural selection—Darwinnowing I suppose we could call it.

Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist and writer of The God Delusion and other nonfiction works, has more than once caused controversy with his writings about religion and creationism. Nevertheless, here his statement about how he writes points to a way many of us can improve our writing—by cutting out the weak words and sentences and leaving in the strong ones. The trick, of course, is knowing the difference between the weak and the strong.

This quote comes from a short piece on the office where Dawkins often writes; it was published in T: The New York Times Style Magazine, August 25.

Do We Buy Brands or Products Today?

IMG_0510Recently, I read a statement by a marketing professional who stated bluntly that people today buy brands, not products.

This pronouncement seemed wrong, like wishful thinking, a little ahead of itself. Regardless of what that writer and other marketers will tell you, people still mostly buy products, not brands.

When people buy brands, they do so because they relate to the company in a way that goes beyond just the function of its product. Cars made by both BMW and Toyota will get people where they want to go, for example. But some of us buy BMWs because this brand makes us feel good about ourselves, perhaps as a reward for years of hard work or for landing a coveted first job. Others buy Nike sneakers because we share this brand’s commitment to achieving excellent athletic performance.

On the other hand, people buy products, regardless of who makes them, because of their function. They provide what the buyer wants. Post Raisin Bran tastes good today, but maybe tomorrow, Kellogg’s Raisin Bran might taste better or might be on sale when the consumer is at the store. Pepsi and Coke might be interchangeable, depending what’s available at the restaurant or from the vending machine. Consumers subscribe to Comcast because it’s the only cable service available in their community, but they wouldn’t really care if AT&T were their cable provider.

Marketers are correct in saying that people are loyal to brands. But, it seems to me, their lack of loyalty to products is what’s really behind most of their purchases.

Some people may always buy Toms shoes because they are committed to the brand’s philanthropic goal of giving one free pair of shoes to someone who needs them every time the company sells a pair. But I believe most people, when they need a pair of shoes, buy the pair that looks best and feels best within their budget. They may occasionally buy Tom’s shoes, but only if the shoes meet these criteria.

Except for one period in the ’90s, I have bought Apple computers ever since my first Mac in 1985. I’m a pleased supporter of Apple, now buying iPhones, iPads and iPods exclusively. I believe in the company and its approach to building products, as Steve Jobs expressed in Walter Isaason’s biography of the Apple co-founder and former CEO:

When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.

Clearly, I buy the Apple brand, not just Apple products.

But Apple is about as far as I go in buying brands. And I don’t think I’m alone. It seems to me that most people still buy products today, buying brands only in a limited number of categories, perhaps only makeup or designer clothes. Certainly we don’t always—or even mostly—buy brands, regardless of what the wishful marketers may want to believe.

We buy products—not brands—because most companies’ storytelling doesn’t create for us an emotional attachment that goes beyond their products’ functionality. The narratives may honestly represent the beliefs and philosophies held by these companies, but we’re not relating to them, and we are not forming strong relationships with them. As a result, most companies still remain product makers, rather than brands that we feel represent us and our lifestyles.

(Note: I used the quote from Steve Jobs in an earlier blog “The Purity of Simplicity” on craftsmanship, which you may read here.)  

A Joyce Carol Oates Quote on Social Media

It’s a little surprising to me that social media have turned out to be kind of prissy and prim and politically correct.

Joyce Carol Oates, writer of countless books of fiction, plays, poetry, and nonfiction, made this statement in response to the furor caused by her series of tweets that seems to question whether religion has played a role in Egypt’s “epidemic” of sexual abuse and rape. In his New York Times piece, Tweeting Toward Sacrilege, op-ed columnist Frank Bruni says Oates “isn’t sure why a format seemingly designed for uncensored, spontaneous, imprecise musings, not nuanced manifestoes, should become grist for such outrage.”

07/20/13: Communications Stories from Here & There

Below are five noteworthy communications stories from the past few days.

Sponsored Content: An Ethical Framework by Richard Edelman, on edelman.com, July 16.

In this article, Edelman writes about his agency’s newly released special report on PR agencies’ opportunity to develop an ethical framework for sponsored content—content written and produced by marketers, not the media outlets. He says that PR agencies must “have a different set of ethical standards than the media buyer or ad agency, because our profession relies primarily on its trusted relationship with earned media. Those principles fall into three broad categories: Disclosure, Quality and Process.”

He discusses those categories and provides a link for downloading the report: “Sponsored Content: A Broader Relationship with the U.S. News Media.”

Social Media Makes for Better Student Writing, Not Worse, Teachers Say by Joanna Stern on abcnews.go.com, July 16.

In this article, Stern provides anecdotal and study evidence showing that social media and digital technologies are having a positive—not negative, as many people would believe—effect on student writing. A new study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and the National Writing Project, for example, shows that three-fourths of the teachers questioned believe digital technologies “encourage study creativity and personal expression,” Stern says.

This result, it seems, is due mainly to students wanting to improve the quality of their classroom writing because they are sharing it with a wider audience through blogs and other online outlets.

Three Steps to Becoming a Thought Leader in Your Industry by Louise Julig, on socialmediaexaminer, July 17.

This article on how Drillinginfo, a company serving the oil and gas industry, has used social media to become an industry thought leader and to become recognized by potential and current customers as a premier source of information in the industry. Specifically, Julig details the company’s efforts to blog with a plan, market its marketing, and network with influencers.

Others can learn from Drillinginfo’s successful content marketing work.

Presentation Skills Learned from ‘Mad Men’ by Danny Groner on ragan.com, July 18.

Groner offers five tips that will help PR professionals—and others who give presentations—succeed while showing “some Draper-like swagger that’ll keep people on the edge of their seats.” To see how it’s really done, watch the three videos embedded in the article.

Brands Look for Guide to Navigate New World of Native Advertising by Sarah Shearman, on prweekus.com, July 19.

The growing importance of native advertising is increasing the PR industry’s “need to create a set of standards to keep the line between editorial and advertising intact,” Shearman reports. If this line is blurred, she writes, reader trust will erode because native advertising “threatens to encroach on the line that editorial and readers hold sacred.”

One of the first steps in creating these standards would be for people in the media and in the PR and advertising industries to agree on a consistent definition of “native advertising,” which Shearman describes broadly as “brand-sponsored content on a media site that is housed with and closely aligned with editorial in subject matter, design, and style.” It is sometimes referred to as “sponsored content,” as Richard Edelman does in his article mentioned above.